Nationwide Book Tour: A Peek Inside the Sausage (+ Giveaway)

When I heard the words “nationwide book tour,” I used to imagine working an hour or two every day for several weeks and spending evenings in fancy hotels, all the while being hounded by adoring fans. Sounded pretty sweet.

Well, it may be that way for the superstars, but for the rest of us, a spring book tour begins in November, with planning, research, pitch letters, and reaching out to friends and contacts in various cities.

So there I was in November staring at a blank calendar—almost as terrifying as the blank document I stared at when I began writing the book itself. Somehow I had to brush a full-on tour into those white squares. Where did I even start?

I had launched the self-published version of my book in New York, and it seemed weird to launch the same book again, calling on the same friends to attend a launch for a book they’d already read. So I looked west, to the Bay Area of California. I’m a Stanford alum, the bulk of my college friends stayed in the area, and my publisher is based in Berkeley. So I had a starting point.

Another friend, an Israeli living in Seattle, offered to put me up if I ever visited his town. So I went north, with a stop in Portland, home of the venerable Powell’s Bookstore. I had met a Portland couple at a conference in Albuquerque who were active on the Israel/Palestine issue. I hoped they could help me set up and publicize events. They could offer only limited help, but when I reached out to my email list, a college friend reminded me that he lived there—and he’d be happy to host me and help set up a talk or two. It was a huge relief, and it’ll be a joy to reconnect with him.

Next was Colorado, where an enthusiastic reader offered to help set up talks. (As it turned out, she wouldn’t even be in town that month, but that’s another story.) Then Oklahoma City, where I’d gone to high school and had many friends and contacts. Finally back to the east coast, where I could take buses from New York to DC, Philly, Boston, Princeton, and other cities.

Once the itinerary was in place, I researched book stores in each area and sent the top candidates to my publicist. Then I reached out to contacts, Facebook friends, and blog readers, letting them know my cities and available dates. I also cold-emailed countless student groups, activist leaders, and professors at various universities. Many never replied, but most did and were very kind, even if they couldn’t help at this time. Several seemed genuinely excited to hear from me, which always boosted my mood.

Here’s the schedule so far. It's a bit more ambitious than usual—around 40 events in twelve states. (My poor fiance will hardly see me in the three months before our wedding. But we look forward to a long, leisurely post-wedding summer, relatively speaking.)

As for funding? Well, it’s not cheap, but it’s also not as expensive as one might imagine. I’ll stay with friends or contacts in nearly every city, and other expenses include plane fare, food, local transport, and food and wine for the launch party.

But by far the largest expense is the time it takes to organize all of this—time that could otherwise be used to earn freelancing income. And there’s still so much to do, including sending books to all the non-bookstore locations, confirming everything (and dealing with any problems or flake-outs), letting all my hosts know when I’ll be at each airport (and/or figuring out public transport to and from each airport), and helping out with publicity for every venue. The only way to keep from hyperventilating sometimes is just to keep eating the elephant one bite at a time.

Book stores do not offer honoraria or help with travel expenses, but colleges and community organizations often do, and my publisher is chipping in a bit. Still, it doesn’t approach the break-even point when you factor in the time it all takes.

For this reason—and also as another avenue of publicity and creating relationships—I put together an IndieGogo campaign, which is similar to Kickstarter with less stringent rules and more flexible funding options. I created a video to explain everything, and I’m offering cool prizes for various levels of donations, starting at $1.

So that’s a peek inside the sausage of a modern nationwide book tour. Once the organizing is done and I’m on the road reconnecting with friends and meeting new people, hopefully I’ll enjoy the ride and, more importantly, remember the real reason I do this: To tell a story I think deserves to be told to as wide an audience as possible, and connect with dedicated and passionate people who can help make it happen.

My next and final post in this series will be written from the road. What would you like me to write about while I’m on the book tour? What questions do you have about touring, publicity, and publishing in general? I’ll use your comments to craft my next post! And keep in mind, my publisher will send copies of Fast Times in Palestine to three commenters chosen at random at the end of this three-part series on March 18!

Pamela Olson is the author of Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland, a gripping coming-of-age memoir full of beauty, suspense, cruelty, star-crossed romance, and dark humor that was named a Top Ten Travel Book of 2013 by Publishers Weekly.

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Comment by Pamela Olson on March 12, 2013 at 10:07am

By the way, Chapter One is here if anyone wants to check it out.

I'll try to get to the rest of the questions soon -- I'm just about to Skype with a Palestinian friend (Rania from the book)

Comment by Pamela Olson on March 12, 2013 at 10:05am

Wow, so many great questions. Allison, of course the proximal point of a book tour is to sell books, but that's like saying the point of life is to survive and reproduce. I'm sure some people just want to sell books, and that's totally fine, but for me I wouldn't be motivated to put this much effort in if that were the only reason. To be honest, I'd rather bartend for six months than plan a book tour! (And I'd certainly make a lot more money.)

As far as showcasing the book's content vs. holding enough back so that people want more, I lean toward showcasing. In fact, I put the entire first three chapters of the book online so that people can get a full quarter of the way into the book before deciding whether to buy. In my experience, this is much better marketing than holding your cards too close to your chest.

Let me give you an example. When I was about ten years old, my father took me with him on a business trip, and I ended up waiting for several hours in a plush lobby where, for some reason, a copy of the book Memoirs of an Invisible Man was lying around. I picked it up and started reading, and when I was 80% through the book, my dad came out and it was time to go. I couldn't steal someone's book, so I had to leave it behind. But I was obsessed with finishing it, and I ended up special ordering it when I got home so I could do so.

Ever since then, I haven't thought twice about giving away a good chunk of a book. :) It also happens that I want as many people as possible to at least read the first quarter of it even if they don't buy it, so it works out!

Comment by Mary M. Wallace on March 12, 2013 at 10:01am

Your life now sounds very exciting, if tiring and nerve-wracking, and you book sounds fascinating, sort of like Eat, Pray, Love with a very real topic. From your photo you look quite young, so I consider you lucky to be where you are now instead of still fighting the battle to find someone who believes in your work. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and your tour! I wish you all the best. Sent by: Mary M. Wallace

Comment by Natylie Baldwin on March 12, 2013 at 9:05am

I wish you a lot of luck with this, Pamela.  I love reading and have been interested in, and active off and on over the years, on the Israel/Palestine issue.  I can't wait to read your book and I hope you enjoy a lot of success and reach many with this important project.  

Comment by Julie Luek on March 12, 2013 at 8:57am

Lot of planning goes into all the marketing. Wishing you all the best success. Did you do the Colorado leg yet? If not, I'll be keeping an eye open. Love the concept of the book and am looking forward to purchasing and reading it. 

Comment by Gloria Elin Hatrick on March 12, 2013 at 8:54am

First of all, congrats and writing it and getting the award.  It is a book I will read.  Thanks for this article on setting up the book tour.  Frankly, reading it makes me fear an eventual book tour even more than I do right now and one is not even looming in my future, as yet.  I'd like to just hear how it goes.  A brief diary?  Ups and downs.  By the way, I live (with my husband, an outreach librarian) in Hillsboro, about half an hour from Portland if you need another port in a storm.  We'd be happy to host and hear of your travels or just provide a meal, shower & bed.  Best of luck!  Try to enjoy the inevitable would be my motto.

Comment by Karen Sosnoski on March 12, 2013 at 8:50am

How do you choose which section of your book to read? What difference do you find between imagining readers/an audience while you're writing and actually reading what you've written in front of an embodied audience? What are your fears when you step up to read? Also for those of us who haven't done a book tour yet but who do know deep down that it won't be all glamour when it happens, what, nonetheless are the real highlights, the moments of ambitions fulfilled or new upsides discovered that keep you going? Good luck and congrats! 

Comment by Allison Polk on March 12, 2013 at 8:35am

Quick question re: something you said about your goals for this book tour: "To tell a story I think deserves to be told to as wide an audience as possible, and connect with dedicated and passionate people who can help make it happen."  This may be a duh, but isn't the point of a tour to sell your book?  That said, those two goals go hand in hand, I'm sure, but what I'm wondering is this: where's the balance between showcasing your book content and still holding something back so that people will want more?

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